Where will the search for solitude take us next?
October 12, 2006
We are not addicted to oil. We are addicted to moving around and exploring what’s out there, be it the top of the mountain or the climbing wall in the new recreation center on the edge of town.The words of that explorer of the future, Captain Kirk, stay with us because he fed our fantasies of what we all want to do: “Boldly go where no man has gone before.” We want to find a trail where you won’t run into other hikers, a campground that never fills up – and while we’re at it – a town that’s got more affordable housing than our own.I recently took my family out to the local train track turned bike and pedestrian path in an effort to get away from the crowds. We were passed on the right by a couple dressed in the latest cycling wear on an expensive-looking tandem bike. He was pedaling away up front, and she was sitting in the back, forgetting to pedal as she chatted away on her cell phone. Theirs was a luxury sports car compared to our family minivan: a line of secondhand bikes pedaled by kids in secondhand clothing, my panniers filled with water bottles, cracker crumbs, half-eaten sandwiches and discarded socks (no pairs).Feelings of déjà vu overcame me: Were we traveling on a bike path or the interstate? Did covered wagons full of kids look like the back seats of my minivan or the interior of my panniers? Will family star cruisers of the future look much the same?The whole of the West has been populated and shaped by our desire to explore and to get away from whatever was plaguing us back where we came from. Charles Ingalls of the “Little House on the Prairie” books kept moving his family west because he felt things were crowded if he couldn’t walk more than a mile without running into a neighbor. If he lived now, he’d need some tall fences.We are open to any form of fuel – gasoline, restaurant grease, kitchen waste – that will transport us where we want to go on our own schedules and whims. Wagons traveled in trains, but I doubt many wagon-pooled, and individual pioneer families often stopped or changed direction before the wagon train did, maybe from fatigue, or maybe because they wanted to guarantee space between themselves and their neighbors.Forget about peak oil, we are talking peak movement of the human population. Where will we go next, and how will we get there?Is climbing a mountain really such an accomplishment when anyone with enough money to buy all the gear and hire a guide has been up there and left their trash behind? How many people really need to travel to the Arctic to bring back the story of the ice melting? I think we get it. How much traffic are we willing to wait behind to get to that once secluded spot in a national park that has recently been equipped with wireless Internet?Let’s return to the fantasy offered up by Captain Kirk. If we do reach peak movement, if there is nowhere to go to avoid the crowds and experience something new, we will probably head up; West is no longer an option. We will even go back to traveling in groups until someone finds a way to allow us to travel solo through the stars. As always, we will insist on comfort, having moved easily from horse and bumpy wagon to cars and car-top totes, adding TV monitors for the kids in the back seat, and a “way back” for our dogs plus recreational gear.There are companies already offering commercial space travel, and when private enterprise gets hold of ideas, they take off, and we find ourselves going where we believe no one has gone before. I believe we’ll move easily to celestial travel, just so long as our family ships come equipped with decent cup holders.Suzanne Malakoff is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colo. (hcn.org). She writes in Olympia, Wash.